You’ve probably heard the universal maxim of the “three rules” of real estate: “location, location, location.” Similarly, it could be argued that three crucial rules of Biblical interpretation are “context, context, context.”
One of the very first things a good English teacher will teach you is to find the author’s intent in literature. Whether it’s Lord of the Flies, Dr. Seuss, or the Bible, we should be asking ourselves, “What is the author trying to say here?”
It seems that the overall “feel” of our post-modern culture has reduced the importance of context and hermenuetics in favor of an “I think, I feel” style of interpretation. “I feel that this passage is ______, I think this could be applied ______.” To suggest that there is an objective meaning to a passage can even offend some people!
If we believe these writings — and their authors — have a sacred quality to them, we dare not ignore the important contextual surroundings that help us to grasp what the author is trying to convey to us. Understanding the vantage point from which he writes is almost as crucial as understanding the nature of the text itself.
Romans, for example, is a letter, in which Paul builds an argument brick-by-brick. He spends the first half discussing the bad news of the human condition, and suddenly erupts with exuberant hope and good news in chapter eight. If you stopped reading at chapter seven, you would think the book is fatalistic and depressing. If you only read chapters eight to sixteen, you’d be confused as to why this news would even be “good” at all.
Song of Songs is a poem, Proverbs relies on the reader having some common sense, and James is addressing a moral problem in Jerusalem.
We see the symptoms of this cultural context ignorance in the typical anti-theistic activist or “vocal” skeptic, who points to laws in Leviticus and cries foul that we’re not still slaughtering bulls and goats. Thinking they’ve dismantled the Bible’s credibility as a whole, what they’ve really done is demonstrated sloppy scholarship and lack of attention to… yes, you guessed it, context.
Beyond just demonstrating the ancient Israelite context of ceremonial laws or the allegorical nature of Revelation, Accordance can help you go deeper — way deeper, and glean incalculable riches from the Word.
What makes the Bible both a unique and challenging study experience is its broad range of historical, social, cultural, and religious contexts. It can often be overwhelming, even to the scholar. Some things may be confusing or downright contradictory. In our tough stuff sale, we want to encourage you to study divergent opinions on difficult texts and interpretations. These will help you to “solve” some of those passage predicaments.
Dr. J has just recorded an excellent podcast which demonstrates how and why to study a passage in context:
It’s enough to make the heart of the dedicated scholar or pastor burst for joy. But, er, don’t take me out of context there.
Have you ever noticed that when you do different kinds of searches in Accordance, you're really wanting different things?
Let's say you do a verse search for Ephesians 2:8. The Search tab dutifully displays that verse, and that verse only. But you don't want just that verse; you want to begin reading at that verse and continue reading the verses that follow it. To see that verse in context, you need to drag the context slider all the way to the right.
Now, leave the context slider set to all and enter the following search: Gen 1:1, 26; 5:1. When you do a search like this for a series of verses, you typically don't want to see those verses in context. Instead, you want to be able to see only those verses so you can compare them. To remove the context, slide the context slider all the way to the left.
Now, let's say you enter a chapter reference, like Exodus 20. That case is very much like the search for a single verse. You're really just wanting to jump to that chapter and likely wanting to see it in context. So once again, we need to drag the context slider all the way to the right.
Suppose that you next decide to do a word search. You click the Words button and enter the word love. In order to scan the results of this search, you don't want to see each verse in context; you just want to see the verses which contain the word "love". Once again, you need to drag the context slider all the way to the left!
From these examples it should be clear that we typically want some search results to be shown in context and others to be shown without it. Accordance makes it easy to change the amount of context, but wouldn't it be nice if it looked at the kind of search you were doing and adjusted the amount of context accordingly?
Hmmmm. It sure would be nice.
Accordance power users know there are lots of little tricks, shortcuts, and niceties which make studying the Bible quick and effective. In this series of posts, I'm offering some simple tips which can save you time and effort. Here's another one:
Can't Go To? Use the Context Slider.
In yesterday's post, I showed how you can hit Tab twice to select the contents of the Go To box so you can enter a verse reference (in a Text) or article (in a Tool) to navigate there quickly. As I explained yesterday, the Go To box is a navigational tool. When you enter a verse or article there, you are not searching for that verse or word, you are simply jumping there. If you've done a search which only shows some of the verses in a Text or some of the articles in a Tool, the Go To box can only take you to the verses or articles which are currently displayed.
For example, let's say you do a search in the HCSB for "faith." The first verse which contains the word "faith" is Deuteronomy 32:51. The next verse displayed is 1 Samuel 23:16. If you then hit Tab twice to select the contents of the Go To box and enter "Joshua," Accordance will take you to 1 Samuel 23:16, because it the closest verse which is currently displayed. Since the book of Joshua is not currently displayed in the window, how can you get there?
The easiest way to make sure that Joshua gets displayed in your window is to drag the context slider on the Search window all the way to the right (the setting for all context). You can also just click on the right edge of the context slider to set the window to show all context. With the context slider set to All, the verses containing the word "faith" will then be displayed in the context of the entire Bible. And with the entire Bible displayed, you can now hit tab twice then enter any verse in the Go To box to jump there.